Here’s what you need to know
Most of us learn to swim in the luxury of a heated pool. While it provides a fulfilling outlet for the majority, there are many who still long for the open waters. It’s there where they feel at one with nature, and with miles upon miles of open waters all to themselves, it can be one of the most meditative experiences.
For those starting open water swimming however, it can be a steep learning curve. With colder temperatures, choppy waters and the lack of a safety net so to speak, it’s important to prepare yourself for the transition. There are some important swimming safety tips to learn about, but once mastered, open water swimming can be a truly rewarding experience. And with multiple events organised around the country, it has never been easier to test yourself against the best.
Tips for starting open water swimming
Ensure you're a strong swimmer.
If you're swimming in lakes, reservoirs or the open sea, you won’t have the luxury of simply standing up when you tire. Nor do you have the luxury of a pool edge to grab a hold of if you find yourself getting into trouble.
Before venturing into open water, you need to be a competent swimmer in the pool first. Open water conditions can be extremely challenging. Between colder temperatures, choppy waters and strong currents, they often challenge even the best. Once you've mastered the basics and have established a solid fitness base built over time, you can generally quite effortlessly transition to starting open water swimming.
Open water swimming is not for the squeamish
Weeds, slimy vegetation and fish are all things you will encounter in open water. It's as far removed from a sanitised swimming pool as you'll get. And if you're in any way squeamish about sharing the water with other life forms, then you may want to be careful about where you choose to go initially.
Those perceived disadvantages of starting open water swimming are generally counteracted when you thrive in that outdoor environment, where chlorinated water is exchanged for something much more natural and even therapeutic!
Swim with a friend in open water
It is not recommended, if you’re starting open water swimming, to venture out alone. From strong currents to choppy waters, and from cramping to fatigue, there's a lot that can go wrong. Inexperienced open water swimmers will always do better if they learn the ropes from someone more experienced.
Ensure you have the gear
Open water is less forgiving than those heated pools we all learned in. Depending on where you live, open water may be very cold indeed. To insulate yourself, we recommend swimming with a wetsuit. Not only do they provide insulation, but they also provide buoyancy, and that's always a welcome aid in open water.
It's always advisable to swim with a swim buoy. They usually have a strap that‘s secured around your chest connected to a line that allows you to effortlessly tow the buoy. The buoy gives you something to cling to in the event of extreme fatigue or cramping. It also ensures you are visible when out on the water. Many also double as a dry bag allowing you to safely store valuables such as car keys and a mobile phone inside.
Join a swimming club
Once you've mastered the basics of open water swimming, the next logical step is to enjoy it with others by joining a club. It's a great way to meet fellow swimmers and perhaps even challenge your own competitive instincts all in a supportive environment.
Taming the competitive instinct: Finding events
It has always been easier to find an outlet for competition on dry land, but for those of us with a thriving aquatic spirit, there are always events going on where we can test ourselves.
In the UK, there are several open water events that take place. Thankfully many of them take place in the summertime.
From the Great North Swim to the Wales swim and from the Human Race to the Great Swim event around the UK, there's no shortage of aquatic challenges. Open water races are generally in the range of 5km to 25km, but some are along as 80km and can be a short as 500m.
They attract all manner of athletes. From those just starting open water swimming to those in training for triathlons and everything in between. Regardless of your level, these open water races are a great way to socialise and meet and interact with those who have a similar interest.